Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Their hearts belong to Daddy, but is it time for a change?

Watching Agnieszka Radwanska today in Miami, I thought, for the hundredth time: How can such a talented player bear to have such a terrible second serve? I really enjoy watching Radwanska, but it is obvious that--despite her considerable skills--she is not going to win anything big until she either gets in 90% of her first serves or comes up with a decent second serve.

Radwanska is coached by her father, a man who already has a reputation as one of the more difficult tennis parents on the tour. Obviously, he did something right, or Radwanska would not be such a good player. But what kind of coach allows a top player to continue playing while she holds such a large liability?

I have written many times that I suspect that Marion Bartoli's physical fragility could be related to the fact that she does so much training, even right before a match. Maybe I'm wrong, but would it hurt for her to try someone else's approach? It isn't going to happen: Bartoli, you'll recall, would not play in Fed Cup because her father (who is her coach) was not allowed to accompany her.

Sabine Lisicki is also coached by her father. Lisicki, a real talent, is now a walking (figuratively speaking) injury. Again, how could it hurt to have someone else take over--at least for a while--who could get to the bottom of Lisicki's now common tendency to become injured during matches?

There may be some observers who think that it's time for Caroline Wozniacki to seek a fresh perspective, too. It's hard to argue with a number 2 ranking, or with the inherent toughness Wozniacki displays, but there is also concern that her reliance on defensive play will eventually hamper her success.

This is not to say that it is always a bad thing to be coached by one's parent. Melanie Molitor was a good coach, though she did accept her daughter's lack of desire to train, whereas, perhaps another person would have been tougher on Hingis. Ai Sugiyama was also very successfully coached by her mother. And there is no arguing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price produced two outstanding players. The Williams sisters, however, are in a class of their own. Not only are they outstanding athletes, but they were brought up, from day one, to believe, not that they could win, but that they would win.

Looking at players like Radwanska, Bartoli and Lisicki, though, I have to wonder--would another coach be able to fix what is wrong?


Overhead Spin said...

You know ordinarily I would disagree with you and use the Williams Sisters as an example of parental coaching has its benefits but then you went and threw a spanner in the works by stating that the Williams Sisters are in a class all their own. I think one of the problems that a lot of players who are "coached" by their parents is the sense of belief that they have instilled in their children. In addition, you get the feeling that these ladies are not playing for the love of the game but moreso because it is a family venture and ergo they are not as involved as they would ordinarily be. When Richard and Oracene were training their daughters they instilled in them more along the lines that you have to be good at this, you are good at this and it was never about making sure that they succeed so that the family could have a meal on the table. If that were the case then they would have been playing tennis from the juniors etc. He allowed them to go at their own pace and felt that he knew when they were ready to handle the pressure of the regular Tour. There are so many horror stories out there about young girls and boys who are being pushed by their parents to be the next Serena or Federer that you have to wonder just how many of these youngsters really do see tennis as a sport that you enjoy playing and making a living from it and more often than not a way to make the family's life better. See Donald Young for a perfect example and the recently retired Vaidisova.

Diane said...

And, very likely, Anna Kournikova.

Anonymous said...

Someone once said "All great achivements require time." Good post.

BS said...

Great post Diane, I totally agree. Richard Williams and Oracene Price moulded the sisters' games, but the fact that they also let outsiders in to help with their training and coaching shows that they weren't oblivious to the fact that sometimes it is good to get another perspective on things. As much as I like Lisicki, it is true that she has been injured so much over the last few months and who knows what damage this could do in the long run. Since Wimbledon last year her shoulder and her ankle have been injured and now she is hurt again. It may be down to over training or not properly looking after an injury, but it is certainly something that needs to be addressed. By sticking with their fathers as their coaches, it could do more harm to them than good. I don't see it happening, but if these girls did get some outside help, who knows what it could do for them in their careers. It would be a shame for all of that talent to be wasted.

Diane said...

Thanks, Anon and BS.